Transforming 'Transformers'

PPI's global marketing strategy for the upcoming adaptation of the popular toy is not child's play.

"We really recognize the fact that for most people, 'Transformers' are a toy," Paramount Pictures International executive vp international marketing Jon Anderson acknowledges. "Our job is to change that perception." Indeed, Michael Bay's latest big-budget special effects extravaganza about alien technologies fighting their war on our world will be marketed as an event and spectacle, rather than just a movie about a hugely successful toy line.

Hasbro will nonetheless support the upcoming summer action film with a worldwide promotional blitz and ignite a new product and merchandising frenzy, Anderson assures. "Given its strong presence as a toy, children will be drawn to the film as a matter of course," he says. "They are going to want to see it."

The challenge then becomes how to go about establishing the film for adults, push the teen appeal and, says Anderson, dispel "any preconceived notion that this is a kid's movie."

The transformation started with a new trailer at the end of last year that aimed to alert the marketplace as to just how big the film is going to be. In addition to the enormous scale, the trailer also was designed to hint at the story's human element. "It is more than just machines," Anderson insists. "There are other elements beyond (simply being an) action movie."

But the campaign is not just for moviegoers, and Anderson hopes the early publicity also will make an impact on exhibitors. "(We want) to make sure that the exhibition community understands its full scope as well," he says. "We are lucky enough to have some fantastic footage that we will be taking around the world. The reactions have been sensational so far."

For tentpole films such as May's "Shrek the Third" and July's "Transformers," it makes sense for Anderson and the team at PPI to do a big sell internationally and reap the rewards immediately, rather than wait to see what happens."

Most major territories, including Australia/New Zealand, Germany, Italy, Russia and the Nordic countries open concurrently with "Transformers'" July 4 frame set in North America. As a general rule, "On the big titles, we are moving much closer to the U.S. release dates," Anderson says. "Obviously, piracy is a serious issue these days ... but it's also about the event nature of some of the films. You really want to be out there when the buzz is coming around the world, as it can be a tremendous boost in getting that all-important boxoffice."

With the entire world already covered by mid-August, the global message is clear. "Our marketing push is all about making people understand that this is a big movie," Anderson explains, "a blockbuster to be thought of in the same breath as (Buena Vista's upcoming May actioner 'Pirates of the Caribbean: At Worlds End') and (Sony's May actioner) 'Spider-Man 3.' It is high-concept, has state-of-the art CGI effects and will provide all the thrills and action that one expects from a big Hollywood summer movie."

PPI's marketing group has developed some unique plans for Japan, where the film's opening has been set for Aug. 4. A special trailer was launched during the peak December season that included a personal message from Bay and executive producer Steven Spielberg, as well as detailed the star power of the film's creative team and the immense popularity of the director behind some of the biggest blockbusters of all time.

As to why this tactic would not be imported to other markets, Anderson cites cultural differences. Personal messages have been used effectively in Japan before, he notes. "Japanese audiences are more in tune with seeing the talent behind the camera up there on the screen and talking to them," he says.

About the expense, Anderson feels it is certainly warranted for a country that can be the most important market after North America. Notwithstanding the theme of robots being ever so popular in Japan, PPI also plans to reinforce the film's other thematic elements such as family and teen romance that, while resonating across the globe, elicit particular reactions in Japanese audiences.

Although detailed tracking information was not yet available, anecdotal evidence shows that the special message was extremely well-received, including a trailer exclusive on Yahoo! Japan and a key TV program. Tracking general awareness and expectations is a crucial tool that "is getting more sophisticated for international and something we are taking seriously. Just to see how effective and what impact it has on the people in specific countries, (PPI looks at) research regarding television spots, not just trailers, and other materials we are using."

Indeed, when it comes to "event" films like "Transformers," Anderson insists, "You almost have a global brand. The concept and look of the film do translate very well."

Spoken as a true marketer. However, he adds, "It's only six months before the release, so there's still plenty of time to keep working on this film."